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July 9th, 2008
02:18 PM ET

A fundamentalist Christian military? Follow procedure!

Randi Kaye
AC360° Correspondent

Wait 'til you hear this!

So many of you were fired up about yesterday after I blogged about Army Specialist Jeremy Hall, an atheist soldier who is suing, among others, the Department of Defense and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

We were flooded with responses!

Specialist Hall alleges the military is becoming a Christian organization. He says his religious freedom protected under the First Amendment was violated.

If you missed the original blog, Hall was raised Baptist, said grace before dinner and read the bible each night before bed. Then a friend, a fellow atheist, suggested he read the Bible again. When he did, Hall says he had so many questions that he decided to embrace atheism. He no longer believes in God, luck, fate, or anything supernatural.

That change in Hall's beliefs, he says, cost him his military career and nearly cost him his life in Iraq. He says his life was so at risk that the army assigned him a full-time bodyguard and even sent him home early from Iraq.

Hall says he was ostracized for not embracing fundamentalist Christianity in the military. At Thanksgiving two years ago, Hall says he was told to sit at another table because he refused to pray at mealtime.

After he was nearly killed during an attack on his humvee, Hall told me, a fellow soldier asked him “do you believe in Jesus now?”, His response, “No, but I do believe in ballistic armor,” which saved his life.

And he says he was passed over for a promotion because he’s an atheist, and was told, “because I can't put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn't make a good leader.”.

Hall filed suit against the federal government in March. He isn’t seeking money, just religious freedom in the military.

The Justice Department had until midnight yesterday to respond and it took its time. Late last night, it filed a response. Turns out, the U.S. Government, the very government Hall agreed to serve and risk his life for, wants his lawsuit tossed out.

Justice says the case should be dismissed because, “plaintiffs lack standing, have failed to exhaust intramilitary remedies, and assert claims that are nonjusticiable.”

“Because Secretary Gates already exercises his authority to prevent violations through the Army’s Equality Opportunity Program – which Specialist Hall failed to invoke—there is no live controversy with respective for plaintiff’s injunctive relief against him,” the Justice Department says. It also notes Secretary of Defense Gates has instructed the army to develop policies and procedures consistent with the Department of Defense’s prohibition against religious discrimination.

Throughout the response, the Government faults Hall for not filing a formal complaint with the military. I had asked Hall why he hadn’t done that when we met near his base in Fort Riley Kansas. He told me that nothing ever gets done as a result of those complaints, so he reached out to the group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, to make sure this was handled. The group and its founder, Michael Weinstein, is suing along with Specialist Hall.


Filed under: Keeping Them Honest • Randi Kaye • Religion
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Jules

    At the end of the day, the bible says you shouldn't kill, shouldn't lie and shouldn't use the name of god in vain. If this is to be followed its best that soldiers are athiest anyway.

    The top brass are liars, including the Commander in Chief all the way accross the board.

    Church is church, soldiers are soldiers and Politics is politics. They should be kept seperate as much as possible at all times. If the Church wants to get into politics, give up the church, they can't be both. I see this tooooooo much here in a very Catholic country, a country where you kill people for as little as $200 and life has no value.

    Good luck to the Jeremy Hall, he's about to find out how corrupt these things are and how difficult he'll find it to prove anything.

    July 10, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  2. SPC Justin Daniel

    All of you are speaking assumptively and without basis. How does someone not in the military make the comment "There indeed does seem to be an evangelical bias in the forces." as if it is truth. You are ignorant of the reality. And MUSLIMS do not see Americans as Christians. We are considered the enemy because of our support for their enemies, such as Israel, and for our disdain for their conduct. Refer to my previous post to see an opinion of someone actively serving in the Army RIGHT NOW.

    July 10, 2008 at 10:28 am |
  3. Donny N.W. Missouri

    Caption: American Soldier in Chapel prays: 'God, please save me from these Bible-Reading Americans and the Koran-Thumping Iraqis'!

    July 10, 2008 at 10:08 am |
  4. Steve

    Re: Jill,

    To some extent, I agree – but would anyone bat an eye if Spc. Hall experienced a sudden battlefield conversion in the other direction? Most likely not – the Christians on the battlefield would be applauding. There's only an issue with his swift conversion away from Christianity because it was AWAY from Christianity.

    Yes, Spc. Hall was probably vocal about his newfound lack of faith – and he should be, just as any Christian should be able to be vocal about what they believe. The saying goes, however, that my religious freedom ends where yours begins. I doubt Spc. Hall made death threats in support of his lack of faith, or used his position (several of his detractors outranked him quite a bit, and a non-commissioned officer IS God in an Army platoon) to ostracise and threaten Christians.

    The Islamist extremists believe that this is a holy war of Muslims versus Christians and Jews. I say differently: it IS a holy war, but it is a holy war between those who would force all to believe as they do, and those of us who find that idea abhorrant at best.

    Stories like this sound to me like we're becoming the very enemy we're trying to fight.

    July 10, 2008 at 9:46 am |
  5. Sheila Danzey

    I sympathize with what this soldier is going through. However I feel just the opposite. I am a Seventh Day Adventist in the military and even in garrison I have to struggle to respect the Sabbath. For instance… as a cook, we work 6 out of 7 days a week. Well Saturday is the Sabbath and I requested to work Sunday. My request was denied, many times, and not because of lack of people. Time and time again I have been forced to dishonor God and his Sabbath for the military; again I am not speaking of being in a war zone. Atheists got sympathy for their beliefs, Wiccan got time off for their rituals, and even Muslims got to skip PT and were allowed to get off of work early every day for the duration of the Ramadan. I feel as though the military is very understanding to most religions except for Christians. I guess this soldier just got caught with a bunch of over zealous Christians who unfortunately did not know enough about their religion to answer his questions, and did not understand the character of Christ enough to demonstrate his understanding.

    July 10, 2008 at 8:10 am |
  6. Ruth

    Just hold on there.. Fundamentalism doesn't even factor into Christianity.. That to me is labelling and an over-generalisation not based on scriptual fact?

    July 10, 2008 at 7:08 am |
  7. J.V.hodgson

    Mr Kaye,
    He has a right to be heard by a jury or justices of his peers and not the guy who runs the political arm of the Defence ministry.
    So first lodge the complaint with the military body and file with his home state civil authorities and demand the hearings in both cases are open to public scrutiny.
    The only question is was he discriminated against or Not, period.
    Hodgson

    July 10, 2008 at 4:32 am |
  8. Wilbur

    Please.................
    Who cares if he don't believe in god! Maybe he thought god was causeing misery.

    July 9, 2008 at 11:31 pm |
  9. Jill

    Randi,

    I agree with Diane N., how do we know what the real story is with this person, there are two sides to every story and what if he does have a slight case of paranoia, or battle fatigue, posttraumatic stress. We do not know this person or how he was acting within the company, he belonged to, those who had to trust him with their backs, their lives in his hands. I get tired of Christians persecuted that are risking their lives in this government’s military too.

    If he suddenly decided to renounce Christ and Christianity, that to me would seem like a major decision at such a perilous times. I for one would feel a bit uneasy with someone coming to such an epiphany, even if I was not a Christian serving along side him. I mean, he does not think Christian’s should be thinking about their God, yet he spent his time questioning it and because he did not understand it, no longer wanted to think about it.

    This is what the bible refers to as not rooted, sown on stony grounds, that the evil one comes and takes away what he did have. And looks like he’s (the evil one, is using Jeremy Hall) trying to cause more conflict within the Military Units.

    The instructions of Christian’s are “do not walk as fools”; this can be misunderstood in meaning to non-Christians; “to be wise as the serpent but harmless as the dove”. In his being so outwardly about his new founded choice, it may have indicated or looked that he wasn’t as stable as some would have wanted to believe.

    I don’t think Christians act this way because you do not believe, they may feel the presents of darkness in this situation, with this unstableness and wanted to separate from it as much as possible as well. For the betterment or ALL. So... This has nothing to do with his rights, in not believing, and serving. He has every right to be atheism, but when he failed to follow procedures himself ~ “Justice says the case should be dismissed because, “plaintiffs lack standing, have failed to exhaust intramilitary remedies, and assert claims that are nonjusticiable.” Sounds like he is confused...

    Is this the first time someone has had their feelings hurt by being ask to sit somewhere else? Not that they should have, if they did, but how did he react...It seem to be such a big deal. I do not know what all happen for him to have to have protection from bodyguards, just maybe he was instigating at bit. Maybe he wasn't ready for a promotion. And, just how did he almost lose his life in Iraq, aren't alot of people over there in the same situation...Again, we don’t really know the whole story.

    Why would he even acknowledge it at this point, maybe he was looking for a way out of Iraq? And maybe his comrades know something that is not being told...

    One thing for sure you can always stir up things by crying foul, concerning Christians.... Persecuted but not Forsaken....

    God bless Jeremy Hall...

    July 9, 2008 at 9:35 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    Hi Randi

    I find it somewhat ironic that our military has been over in the Middle East for several years now fighting for freedom and democracy for Iraq but they fail to ensure that one of their own soldiers has it. I know that for many people religion is a real hot button but there is freedom of religion or non-religion as in this case built into the Bill of Rights in the constitution. Its good to be zealous over one's beliefs but not at the expense of someone else's rights. I hope that this young man can get the relief he is looking for – but the Army's response while predictable is very disappointing.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 9, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  11. Joyce in Jacksonville, FL

    It's a known fact that the military will do everything in its power to hide its misdeeds from public purview, as had been the case of the rapes of female soldiers and female officers-in-training prior to when those debacles became loud and clear.

    What makes anyone think that those who practice alternate religious or non-religions would escape persecution from a right wing fanatical christian group. It's just one more thing that is exposed simply because our leaders in our militia fail to act to protect the rights of all than the rights of the few they agree with. For once I'd like to hear about military leadership stepping up to the plate before something like this gets to this level but actually utilizing the mechanisms they already have in place so as to protect those who are not exactly them but are still Americans nonetheless.

    July 9, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  12. michael wright

    There indeed does seem to be an evangelical bias in the forces.
    Those in power should understand america is multicultural and ethnically, and religiously diverse.
    Freedom of speech does allow freedom of religion or freedom not to be religious.
    It's a bad agenda forcing religious beliefs and dogma on those who choose a different path.
    Moslem see america as christian, and see a christian army occupying a moslem country. For obvious reasons this cannot stand.
    Forcing evangelical dogma on soldiers in the american army reinforces this negative christian crusade image that moslems have of america.
    In all my time watching CNN, there has never been a mention of the impact of a christain army occupying a moslem country, why is that?

    July 9, 2008 at 8:23 pm |
  13. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    I saw your segment on this last night.

    I think it is sad that if he doesn't follow the Christian doctrine, they ask him to leave.

    I don't like religious dogma and I would not disassociate myself from someone for having a different religious belief.

    If he is a good person, it doesn't matter his religion. But then again most Christians I have met it is "their religion or the highway."

    July 9, 2008 at 7:46 pm |
  14. JD

    Kaye is awfully quick to feel sympathetic for Hall, particularly in her "shock" that the government would have the "gall" to ask for dismissal.

    Of course they are. The list of precedents on their side is fairly long; even the Supreme Court recognized that the military not only has its own grievance systems that must be used, but also allowing subordinates to sue their superiors willy-nilly would open up a Pandora's box of litigation that would encumber the military's ability to do its job.

    A display of journalistic neutrality would have lent some credibility to the commentary. Instead, Kaye has taken on Hall's cause, which, incidentally, is consistent with other members of AC360. In the interest of full disclosure, fellow AC360 contributor Reza Aslan is a member of the board of the MRFF–Hall's co-plaintiff.

    July 9, 2008 at 7:11 pm |
  15. Donna A. Reuter, Bremerton, WA

    The Catholic Church instituionalization of anti-Semitism throughout Europe is the reason behind why it was so easy for Adolph Hitler to commit genocide. The Catholic Church machination in affairs of the state is one of the reasons why World War I erupted. This is why the separation of church and state is so important.

    Why don't people learn from history? I cannot believe how totally ignorant people are.

    July 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm |
  16. CaseyJPS

    Randi, thank you for continuing the story, and the dialog. Obviously, this is an important issue to many of us 360 bloggers. Please see the story all the way through 'til the end. It's very important for us to see how our government handles itself and most important to see how Army Specialist Jeremy Hall makes out with this process. I fear he will lose out simply because of a technicality in the law which will (potentially) anger many.

    July 9, 2008 at 6:38 pm |
  17. Jay in Denver, CO

    Someday Jesus Christ will come back and lead our moral army (with the Bush family's help) and slaughter all of the infidels... including dirty American infidels!

    July 9, 2008 at 6:19 pm |
  18. Dennis, Fairfax, VA

    While I don't believe anyone should be sanctioned for their beliefs (or lack thereof), I find it hard to believe that Specialist Hall is a completely innocent victim of a Fundamentalist military. In my experience, atheists can proselytise their position just as fervently as the most dedicated believer. And the the atheists' angle is often antagonistic, challenging the intelligence and reasoning of the faithful. The importance of belief to a soldier who faces death every day is something that most people can't understand. I can believe that being surrounded by a population who considers you to be 'an infidel', and next to a fellow soldier who thinks your beliefs are a delusional fairy tale, might cause many soldiers to circle the religious wagons.

    July 9, 2008 at 6:01 pm |
  19. Cynthia

    Randi, I believe but would never try and force my beliefs on anyone and neither should the military.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm |
  20. Isabel-Chile

    Religion belongs to the intimacy of people, so, you can practice it whenever you want, in the way you prefer the most, but never as an obligation.
    There is nothing wrong with institutions based in a religion, but every member’s believes must be respected.
    As a catholic, I feel petty for those who have nothing to believe in, mainly when their lives are in danger, like Hall.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  21. Henry

    As a Vietnam War (CIB) veteran and longtime veterans advocate I am only surprised that it has taken so long to see this story aired on CNN.

    I suggest you link this story with the issue of PTSD ... the military does not like psychologists and has had a hard time recruiting them (duh ... what is the status of mental health teams in Iraq?). No, ... traditionally he military turns to the chaplain corps which happens to be largely evangelical (how did that happen?). Look also to the Veterans Service Organizations (AL, VFW) promoting evangelical christianity and you will see how deep a problem is presented by a christian army.

    This is a bigger story Randi ... don't let go ... let's hear more from 'Mikey' Weinstien.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  22. Carol

    Unfortunately it is usually better to just keep your mouth shut, wherever your workplace is, when the subject rolls around to religion.

    I am not a believer either. But ALL of the people I work with are very religious – one is even an ordained Baptist minister. When they get into discussing religion, I just nod my head and stay out of it! Why bother? I'm not going to change their minds and they're not going to change mine.

    My sister-in-law is also very religious and always says grace before meals. OK, so what, if that is what she likes to do, fine. I sit quietly and wait.

    I don't understand why this person chose to make an issue of this. He has made his choice (as have I, and I agree with him) but what does he gain by broadcasting it? What would I gain by arguing religion with my co-workers or family members? If any of them were asked what my beliefs are, I'm sure they would all say that they do not know.

    As with born-again Christians who talk endlessly about their faith, this person probably went on and on about his choice also. Both believers and non-believers need to keep their personal beliefs personal.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:34 pm |
  23. Crake

    I thought this was the land of the free, and that the Treaty of Tripoli freed us to pursue or not to pursue the religion of our choice without persecution. I've heard similar stories from the Air Force, if this is true then America has truly lost its way and is sliding down the ugly and slippery path to a theocracy.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:21 pm |
  24. Jake Portland, OR

    I'd like to hear Senators McCain and Obama's opinion on this and other church and state separation issues because so far we have only gotten the standard "I'm a Christian" type responses when they speak to religious groups.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:13 pm |
  25. SPC Justin Daniel

    As a soldier currently serving in the United States Army, I cannot speak for what Jeremy Hall's leaders said to him, but in all my years of service I have never experienced any sort of religious bigotry...and I have been many places and interacted with many people of different religions. The military as a whole strives incredibly for equality and fair treatment for all races, genders, and creeds. Services for many religions from Wiccan to Catholic to Mormon are all present in the military. People in the military act like they are absolutely forced to comply and take on the beliefs of their superiors. Every person within the Army has a voice. Whether or not their own timidity prevents the voicing of their opinions or feelings does not and should not reflect poorly upon the military. With many checks-and-balances in place, such as the Office of the Inspector General or a unit's Equal Opportunity representative, no one has to be subjected to discrimination of any kind unless by choice. I see this as a blatant attack on Christianity...not on the military. The pattern I see among athiests, agnostics, or any one else with beliefs differing from Christianity is the hypocritical claim of intolerance within Christian ranks when the intolerance comes from the very mouths that cry out "Religious Discrimination!!" Why do Christian people have to give up their own religious beliefs to appease those with differing beliefs? If he didn't want to pray at the table, DON'T PRAY! The comments of his inept leaders does not constitute the Army adopting their individual beliefs. If he had a problem with the moment of silence given for fallen soldiers, DON'T PARTICIPATE! Ostracizing himself remains his right as a citizen of this country, but blaming others or a modern and adaptive organization such as the United States Army for the consequences of his actions IS RIDICULOUS!!!

    July 9, 2008 at 5:09 pm |
  26. Larry

    Are those Evangelicals stirring things up again? Glad I'm a Buddhist.

    July 9, 2008 at 5:05 pm |
  27. vern-anaheim ,ca

    i was in the army many years ago and don't recall any faith being forced on any soldier.if it is different today it is because the right wing conservitives have gotten ahold of positions of faith in the military.i don't what could be more clear,just read the constitution,i think it spells it out very clearly

    July 9, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
  28. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Kudos to Uncle Sam for following procedure and seeing this for the frivolous nonsense that it is. Somebody throw this titty baby "soldier" a sippy cup and tell him to grow up. The world isn't always going to agree with the fact that you're an atheist. Get over it. Or find God again. Maybe He's trying to tell you something and you're too ignorant to listen.

    July 9, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  29. Audrey

    To pray or not to pray? An age old question. Here in the land of free speech, we continue to seek consolation through conformity. What are we so afraid of if this man doesn't pray when fighting? Will that Bible protect him from a bullet? My friends, only if he straps it to his chest.

    July 9, 2008 at 4:38 pm |
  30. moe shihadah

    Down with the religious right.

    Republicans=Americas Taliban

    July 9, 2008 at 4:26 pm |
  31. Chris

    I strongly urge you both as an atheist and loyal viewer to please keep following this story both online and on air. Atheists are one of the few groups that it is still okay to discriminate against. Do not let this discrimination go on unknown to the american people.

    July 9, 2008 at 4:24 pm |
  32. Ruby Coria, LA. CA.

    Randi, I too wanted to respond on this yesterday.. my brother being a member of the U.S.M.C. religion*.. I say to him, the Taliban & The U.S.M.C said never mind the 10 commandments~ we will both kill for our religon! We pleage to the flag, one nation, under WHO? said what? GOD? did we say GOD? ok then.. religion should stay out of Goverment period.Tell Obama & McCain also to leave it OUT*
    M.C's don't get mad but it's true it's a religion you're in.

    July 9, 2008 at 3:55 pm |
  33. Diane N.

    How do we know this guy doesn't have paranoia. We don't know this guy or how he was acting within the company he belonged to. Why should we side with him? Why should the court side with him?

    July 9, 2008 at 3:36 pm |
  34. Sandra Howerton

    Thanks for the report on Specialist Hall. He is very courageous in standing up for his lack of belief in the supernatural; and, until someone can present rational, empirical proof that God or anything supernatural exists, I will share his nonbelief. The discrimination that our society inflicts on nonbelievers would never be tolerated if inflicted on members of any religious belief. Yet our is the most rational position. As a general rule, we atheists/agnostics are just as ethical, compassionate, and (as Specialist Hall shows) courageous as adherents of any religion; so there is absolutely no reason for the irrational hatred and prejudice that many direct toward us. And there are more of us than most people think. According to the American Humanist Association, there are 43 million Americans who say they have no belief in God. Doubtless, because of the negative attitudes of many of our fellow citizens, there are many others who also do not believe but keep it to themselves. However, no one should have to make a secret of his/her belief or lack thereof.

    July 9, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  35. Michael Lane

    I'm so sick of this religion/politics thing. We need to separate religion out of government.

    July 9, 2008 at 3:15 pm |
  36. Robert

    The funny thing is that if they truly believed that God would save them, they wouldn't need body armor or humvees, they would be naked.

    July 9, 2008 at 3:09 pm |
  37. Donna A. Reuter, Bremerton, WA

    The is the oath of office that a member of the military who serve in the enlisted ranks:

    "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

    What part of the First Amendment of the Constitution (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances) doesn't the United States military and the DOJ don't understand. Special Hall complied with his oath, why couldn't the DOD and DOJ do the same. What they have done is tanatmount to treason.

    When President Reagan said that the United States was a Christian nation, he was in direct violation of the Constitution that he swore to uphold.

    July 9, 2008 at 3:08 pm |
  38. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Hey Randi. It is very disappointing that the justice department is not outraged by this. Haul probably should have filed a formal complaint with the military to cover all basis but the fact that a guard had to be placed on him tells me that some kind of complaint was filed.

    MLK said it best “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

    Yes the military might be majority Christian but that is no reason to discriminate against others who believe differently. People would be outraged if minorities like African Americans, Mexicans, Asians, women or any minority groups had been discriminated against. Discrimination is wrong whether it be against someone’s race, religion, gender or what ever.

    So what there is a policy against discrimination, actions speak louder than words and right now with their handling of this we could hear a pin drop at a rock n roll concert. Look forward to your report tonight.

    July 9, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  39. Anna - chicago ,il

    I can't believe that the military wants his suit to just simply be tossed out. It seems that they are alwalys hiding behind some program or procedure, but when it comes down to it, these things are just not effective. I find it hard to believe that Hall is making up any of his claims..it wouldn't make any sense. I do believe that he was discrimated against and the military should take a good long look at what is going on. Let's not forget the soldiers who were discriminated against because they were gay and the controversy that started. I'm afraid this isn't the last time we heard one of these stories. If he's a good soldier..why should anything else matter?

    July 9, 2008 at 2:55 pm |
  40. Cindy

    I think that everyone that serves in the military should have every right to practice their own religion. If they are willing to risk their lives then there shouldn't be any bias towards them for anything that they choose to do.

    But saying that there are rules to go by to file complaints within the military to see that justice is served. Hall should have done that before reaching out to this group for help who coincidentally is suing the military also. It makes Hall look bad. If nothing was done from him filing the claim then he should have tried other measures. There are laws set up for a reason. You can't bypass them just because you don't think that they work.

    Cindy..Ga.

    July 9, 2008 at 2:43 pm |
  41. Janine

    As a former catholic, I can understand how Hall could lose his faith and question his religion, I know I lost mine when I reached the age of reason. People want you to believe blindly and when you can't, you are shunned. When did we remove the separation of church and state from the constitution? Actually, I should ask, when was it ever really there? It is a nice concept that has never seen the light of day. This is a soldier fighting for a country and it's people to rise above oppression and yet his life is now at risk. Faith has no bearing on his military career, all he needs is Duty, Loyalty and Honor, religion has no place in the military, leave in the churches, where it belongs.

    July 9, 2008 at 2:39 pm |